Al Jazeera Weighs Its Options, As It Completes Current TV Acquisition

By Alex Weprin 

The Lost Remote newsletter brings you the the best in streaming news, from staffing changes to premiere dates to trailers—to the latest platform moves. Sign up today.

The deal is done. Al Jazeera has completed its acquisition of Current TV, and will re-brand the channel after a transition period from Current TV.

The new channel will not be Al Jazeera English, the company’s English-language news outlet, but rather a new, U.S.-based network. The channel is tentatively being called Al Jazeera America, but a source close to the company says that it isn’t wedded to the name, and may try to create a new brand. One of the options being considered, according to our source, is calling the channel “beIN,” or “beIN News,” to make it mesh with Al Jazeera’s beIN Sport network, which already has some U.S. distribution.

The impetus for the fresh name would stem from Al Jazeera’s brand in the U.S., which, while strong with journalists in New York and DC, is decidedly mixed across the rest of the country.

Al Jazeera acquired Current primarily for its U.S. distribution, which had been at 60 million homes. After Time Warner Cable dropped the network, the carriage dropped to around 40 million. Smaller, but still an enormous starting point for a new cable channel. While every carriage deal is different, it is likely that Al Jazeera would be able to take advantage of many of Current’s agreements with cable providers (TWC notwithstanding), given that they are both classified as news and information networks. For example, when Discovery re-branded Discovery Health as the Oprah Winfrey Networtk, as long as it maintained a certain amount of health-related programming, it stayed within the bounds of its carriage agreements, at least until the next round of negotiations came up.

Al Jazeera’s new network could also potentially take advantage of a recent FCC ruling. Bloomberg TV argued that Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, had to “neighborhood” all news channels together. So, in theory, Al Jazeera could argue that Comcast (which carries Current) has to place it next to outlets like CNN and Fox News.

Co-founders Al Gore and Joel Hyatt will take home a healthy payday with the sale, if the $500 million price is accurate (they will also serve on the board of the new channel), but another big winner could be Keith Olbermann. Even though Olbermann was fired from Current TV, it is believed that he retained at least part of his stake in the company, pending the outcome of the lawsuit he filed. If the 7% ownership stake that was floated when Olbermann first joined Current is accurate, his payday could be as high as $28 million from the sale. He has been completely silent on the matter on his normally outspoken Twitter feed.